All posts by Simon

Micro-Tel SG-811 Swept Signal Generator: a hot (and golden) driver

Suddenly, my SG-811 microwave generator started to play up, running hot, and then, stopped working with power supply failing. Too bad! Fortunately, the Micro-Tel power supplies have a fairly consistent design for all their various instruments, and I have fixed already several of them, so it will be an easy task. In this case, just needed to replace the main transistors to get it working again (MJ12002 replaced by BU208A, which are much more easily available). But switching on, I immediately noted that something was wrong, too much heat and current around the oscillator control board. This board has a LH0021CK power (1.0 Amp) opamp that is driving the tuning coil of the YIG oscillators. The part seems to be shorted out.

Looking at the schematic, there are current sense resistors for each band, with the sense wires switched by an analog multiplexer.

The LH0021 are not quite rare, but expensive – fortunately, a kind guy from the US offered a pair for these on eBay, NOS or used, for a reasonable price. And some weeks later, they made it to Germany.

These are really nice parts, all gold plated and solid pins.

Replaced the LH0021, and the SG-811 is basically working, but still too much current on the LH0021. What is going wrong? Turns out, there is a oscillator control board inside the RF unit, which is switching the coils depending on the band selected. Probing around, this doesn’t seem to work, because one of the coils, band 3, stays energized all the time.

Easy to find the troublemaker – a shorted switching transistor, a medium power PNP, 2N5193. These 2N5192 are not very common, so let’s do a search for similar parts in by basement archive of obsolete parts – and, in fact, there is a bin of BD438, including a note about their characteristics, and a not from the former owner (a generous old man who didn’t need any electronic parts any more, and had several lifetimes’ worth of supplies).

With the RF unit open and the board pulled out, it’s a good idea to check all the transistors and diodes, and in fact, another one found shorted as well (not a tuning switch, but the main power for one of the oscillators).

With both of these transistors replaced, the SG-811 can be put back into service. Didn’t take all that long to fix, not much longer than to deal with repair quotes, shipment, and other hazzles when repairing more modern units.

…plenty of power, up to 18 GHz…

HP 4192A LF Impedance Analyzer: a leaking backup

Finally, to complete my collection of HP Impedance Analyers, I found a 4192A really cheap. As always with cheap things, there is a catch – this unit has some scratches, and doesn’t power up.

Well, usually no big deal, so I placed a bid and some time later the big box arrived. Similar to other HPY (Japanese-made) impedance analyzers, this unit has a lot of empty space inside, and is big and bulky, but at least, this simplifies repair.

Opening up the covers, the main issue is quickly found – the NiCd memory backup batteries have leaked some alkaline substance to the board and case, reading to some damaged components.
Fortunately, the corrosion is not looking too bad, at least the PCB traces are present, and the solder joints seem to conduct electricity.

The front view, you can see the scratches and dirt, but an overall complete unit. No boards missing. Despite their age, these units are normally still traded at 1-2 kUSD, and list price used to be close to 15 kUSD in the late 80s. New units of similar accuracy and range will easily cost you the same, in 2019 dollars.

The board affected, the A7 power supply assy. A switchmode supply. According to the manual, HP used a switchmode supply to reduce the weight and make the unit more portable (???? – what is portable about this box).

The bay holding the power supply, you can clearly see some traces of corrosion, but it is only superficial. The NiCd electrolyte has a tendency to leak out and then slowly creep with moisture all over the place.

These are the General Electric troublemakers!

Best cure for such leakage – wash with plenty of hot water.

Then scrub with a toothbrush, and scrub with vinegar (don’t use any concentrated acid). Vinegar will neutralize any traces of alkali electrolyte.

This is some of the worst placed, but fortunately, the traces were not affected much, and even the leads have a lot of good metal left.

Many good and well known parts in this unit – the CPU

… many Eproms holding very few kbytes each…

Pricy DACs.

And, the first fix – replaced the NiCd batteries with a commercial NiMH pack. There is a 1 kOhm resistor on the board, charging from less than 5 Volts – so this will be fine even for NiMH (less than 0.03 C trickly charge won’t cause any significant deterioration of NiMH cells).

Also – replaced 3 cracked RIFA 15 nF Y-rated caps.

Further repairs will have to wait until I come back from Germany in a few weeks, because some parts on the power supply board show damages, a ceramic capacitor (10 n, 100 V) that didn’t like the electrolyte and a diode (similar to 1N4148).
The electrolytic caps still look OK, but we will see in a while.

HP 8412A Phase Magnitude Display: really unusal supply voltages…

Looking for the CRT front bezel and frame to fix another unit, I found this 8412A Phase Magnitude Display on a Japanese auction site for EUR 8 plus shipping, really affordable! Also, I believe it to be a great source of spare parts, because there are many of the HP standard semiconductors of the 70s inside.

The unit arrived in great shape, almost too good to take it apart – maybe we can use it for something cool, like a CRT clock or some soundwave visualization unit?

How to get it to work – checked the 8412A manual, and, unfortunately, it needs a whole lot of unusual supply voltages (the 8412A slides into the 8410A/B Network Analyzer mainframe) – not easy to operate it without the mainframe. 175 Volts AC, to drive the CRT and 6.3 VAC heater, and +-20 VDC, for the other circuits.

Some pictures of the unit…

The dangers of high voltage are fairly obvious!!

Quite similar to other HP units – amazing how often they recycled the design!

2.000 kOhm, +- 0.05% resistors, a matched pair – not bad! Definitely, a lot of good parts in this unit, including high voltage parts, a good CRT, many semiconductors and transistor pairs, mica capacitors, etc.

HP even supplied a small test board to make service and adjustment easier! Great!!

HP 8642A Signal Generator: Further repairs

After quite a bit of traveling and other time consuming endeavors, back to the 8642A. After the repairs described earlier, the unit was working fine, until some some escaped from the A2 assembly, which has the low frequency source – one of the tantalums blew. No problem, this can happen for a 30 year old unit that hasn’t been used for while. With close inspection, I discovered not only the defective tantalum, but also two resistors to be defective-burnt.

These resistors are in the supply circuits of some of the amplifiers, to remove ripple from the power supplies.

These are the parts, R17 and the blown C17, and R23. Maybe C27 has some issues as well?

The burnt parts marked in red:

… same case for R23. Note that the resistors had about 12 ohms and 15 ohms, so they did not fail open, and this is why the A2 assembly had no functional defect.

Further tests showed that C27 is perfectly fine. Maybe some overload occurred out the output, or the resistor R23 has some weak design (these are only 50 mW resistors!).

The repair is easy, just put in 22 Ohm resistors (0.4 Watt metal film – don’t have any 19.6 Ohm resistors here, but for the given purpose, 22 Ohms is good enough). The 10 uF tantalums C17 and C27, I replaced by 10 uF multilayer ceramic capacitors.

Carrying out the full self test (Shift-Preset-Shift-SPCL-330-Hz).

It takes a while to test the unit, several minutes, but all tests passed with no issue. Modulation output and amplitudes are fine as well.

As you can tell, I have also fixed the backlight (same as before – some high efficiency white LEDs and two 120 Ohm resistors; keep in mind, the common pin for the backlight is ground, and the bulbs are driven by -5 Volts, so, make sure to get the polarity right).

Last but not least – I also replaced the front frame of the instrument, I had a spare back home in Germany, and carried it over to Japan at the occasion of the last visit in Germany, end of March.

HP 8642A Signal Generator: To be, or not to be a parts unit

The HP 8642A is the cheaper brother (or sister) of the 8642B (see here, I have two of the 8642B around and still use them quite a lot, one in Japan, one in Germany), it is essentially the same unit, but the “B” has a built-in doubler to effectively double the frequency range. The 8642A works up to 1057 MHz, good enough for most HAM purposes. It has all the desirable HP high frequency goodies inside, including, a set of precision 140 dB attenuators, and a huge number of parts that would come in handy for repair of other RF gear, everything of highest quality, low noise transistor, high reliability tantalums, a box of cables and connectors, and at least 20 kg of case aluminum. So, I did not hesitate to buy this unit for the scrap price of the aluminum contained. It also has a low distortion modulation source, which is also very useful, and has a may high quality relais and opamps.

The unit is somewhat dirty, seems it had been sitting in some storage room for a while, and looking at the fan inside, it also has seen some hours of operation (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
The front frame has a mechanical damage, some part is missing – fortunately, no damage to the front panel. But I have some spare HP System II frames, let’s see.

Strangely enough, one module is quite shiny, the case aluminum had some other surface treatment – also, it has a later date code (1989), compared to the other units (1985-87). Upon close inspection of the connectors there are slight scratches – seems this module has been replaced. The 8642A had a field repair program based on module exchange (even the specs were guaranteed after such exchange), quite likely that this module had failed after a couple years of service.

After a quick power up test – nothing to report, the unit is not powering up at all. Took all the panels off, and checked the voltages – nothing present. Checking around the rectifiers and capacitors – all is good here, but the voltage regulators (+-5.2 V, +-15 V, and +-50 V) won’t start up, even when I try to force them. Checked the rails – disconnected the cable (ribbon cable) from the supply assy (A17) to the power distribution board. The 15 V line has a hard 0 Ohms short!

15 Minutes later – checked each module. And the shiny one has the short! A bad 10 uF Tantalum (25 V rated, running at 15 V – should usually be good enough). Replaced it with a 15 uF, 25 V Kemet – no 10 uF Tantalums here in my Japan workshop.

Still, before we proceed, let’s be careful with the power supply. Not that it starts up, and has some issues, and all the modules are gone. Easier said than done – there are sense wires going to the power distribution board, and, a ground sense wire going to the rectifier board (A18). I didn’t bother to study the schematic and notes too precisely, there it says: sense ground, connected to a screw and to the chassis. Of course, I had removed this screw, and now wonding why the supply won’t work…

That’s how this screw and trace looks on the schematic.

Fixed it with a jumper wire, still no success.

Fortunately, only minor trouble, a dead Zener in the 15 V crowbar (using a Zener-Thyristor-SCR circuit, marked red below). And, by design of the supply, if the 15 V is dead, all supplies stop.

After this fix, the supply is starting up, and all voltages are accurate to 5 mV, with no adjustments… this is real quality. And with the supply, the unit is starting up, and passing the start up self test, and even the extended self test (preset-shift-330-Hz), no issues.

Not so high quality are the elastomeric materials used – two kind of foam, one of low density, which completly desintegrated to a black glue like substance (same applies to the 8642Bs I have, so it is a material age issue, not related to the storage or use condition). First, scratching off all the old stuff with a credit card. The bottom cover was a mess, so I don’t show pictures (couldn’t touch the camera with the gloves).

Everything cleaned off. Below, these are the craps (including a chocolate bar cover, which you will need after this messy work).

The new foam pieces (not shown), were all cut to the precise shapes, and mounted with double-side tape (carpet tape).

There will be some further repairs needed (the backlight is not working, and I need to get a good front frame from my German junk pile), but some initial tests were done. Phase noise is good, at least as much as I can check, vs. a 8662A, tested at some random frequencies (10 and 56-odd below).

Note, at above 10 kHz, the 8662A has higher phase noise than the 8642A, so the test can only show the overall function and absence of phase noise issues (for the 8642A) above these frequencies.

There are issues with the attenuators. And flatness, see below. Even with a rather crude spectrum analyzer as flatness indicator, all within 1 dB easily, over the full span.

All in all, still a good unit, and I won’t yet use it for parts and spares.

HP 6634A System Power Supply: A few almost-bad RIFA caps, and a 100 Volt, 1 Amp, source-sink supply, and a generous load of transistors

A quick look at a really nice piece of kit, a 100 V, precision regulated power supply, can be floated to +-240 V, and can provide 100 Watts of power, or sink power, about the same range.

The front panel and handling is like any other HP system power supply from this era, and there are models 6632A (20 Volts) and 6633A (50 Volts) that share virtually the same control circuit. All is GPIB controlled, of course, and this unit has front and read outputs. I am going to use it for a capacitor tester (to study the voltage bias effect and hysteresis of ceramic capacitor materials), so I need a fairly reliable unit because it will run unattended for a while.

The top view, there is a massive heatsink, for 100 Watts of dissipation…

The transformer, it is the highest standard and insulation I have ever seen.

There are 8 power transistor, in a really massive output stage (4 complementary pairs, 2 each on each heatsink-the heatsink is sub-divided in two sections), each of them capable of handling 250 Watts of dissipation.

The output stage, it is a really generous design, considering that this is a 1 Amp supply (most designers would handle it with two transistors).

The only thing I don’t like about the unit, the RIFA X and Y rated caps. These are all cracked (still not shorted, but I don’t want to take a chance). So these will need to be replaced.

Otherwise, all is good with this unit, almost no dust inside – I believe this instrument had very low hours, or has been used in a very clean environment (not even a trace of dust on the fan).

HP 3326A Two-Channel Synthesizer: replaced, and replaced again!

Recently, two assemblies of a non-working HP 3326A were fixed by replacing their 15 uF tantalum caps – a good number of them had failed, presumably, because of a bad production lot of these capacitors (see earlier post)

Unfortunately, during the test run, some sporadic failures of the power supply, with overcurrent indication flashing. Then, permanent failure of the -15 V rail – as it turns out, by a short in the assemblies we had just fixed! An again, a discolored tantalum capacitor. Replaced it, and a few hours later, the same issue, with another capacitor of the same kind.
My mistake, I had use a bag of cheap China-sourced 15 uF, 25 Volts dipped tantalums, but these seem to be no good (unlike other Chinese electronics good that have attained good quality in recent years, provided you don’t by the cheapest kind). Maybe it was my mistake to buy the cheapest tantalum capacitors, but not much choice if you need 34 pieces to fix some old equipment – I don’t want to pay EUR 1.45 each from top brand parts from Mouser or similar sources.

With some luck, I found reasonable prices KEMET T350 series Ultradip II capacitors, these are known to be reliable.

You can see the size differences – the KEMET part is much bigger than the Chinese 25 Volts part – it is more similar in size to a 15 Volts KEMET part. Probably, the design was put a bit to the limit.

With the capacitors replaced and another 48 hours of run in test – no issues at all and the 3326A can be considered fixed and working for now.

HP 4191A Impedance Analyzer: power supply fixed

In a recent post,HP 4191A, I have introduced a 4191A with defective power supply. In the meantime, a spare power supply regulator assembly arrived, and the repairs of the originally fitted, defective supply have been completed.

First, some research into the HP p/n 1826-0043 Opamp, which is considered to be a LM307 comparable part. But what is acutally inside the can? Let’s crack it open.

The die has a small marking, reading “LM107C”. The LM107 is very similar to the LM307, except for a wider temperature range, and somewhat extended power supply limits. In the current application, we can safely drop in LM307N opamps. It is also clearly visible that there are no bonds for external frequency compensation (like for the LM301).

The replacement power transistors have been discussed in the earlier post, and now all has been cleaned and new heat conducting grease added.

All the replaced parts marked, after all, I should have also replaced the fuses and fuse holds which show signs of corrosion and bad contact.

A quick test, on the 4191A, left hand side is the working spare, the right hand side, the repaired original supply. I didn’t connect it to the 4191A board, but just to the transformer to confirm the basic working condition without putting the 4191A to any dangers – the repaired supply with but just a spare, and probably it will never be needed… at least not for this unit.

There were no other defects with the 4191A, and now some tests with the 4191A working instrument. It is essentially a very precise one-port vector network analyzer, with a thermostated reflection bridge and some other features that make it suitable for component measurements. There are some (expensive) HP test fixtures, but essentially, you don’t need these because most of the components will need to be tested on some custom boards, or directly soldered to a test connector, to avoid parasitic effects at the frequencies of interest. I just used a set of SMA flange-type connectors.

First some standards were fabricated – a short, by applying a generous amount of solder the connector to completely short it, an open, by cutting off the center pin and machining it flat (maybe need to add a cap or other structure later, to avoid any parasitic capacities, for now, during calibration, you just need to keep the hand away (and any other ground planes). The load 50 Ohms – from two 100 Ohms SMS resistors in parallel.

Some test objects, a 680 pF SMD 0805 capacitor (NP0), a 100 Ohm SMD 0805 resistor, and a wired 100 Ohm metal film transistor.

The test itself, run with some excellent Excel software (by a certain Harry Percival) and Zplots (by Dan Maguire, AC6LA) via GPIB bus.

The 100 Ohm SMD resistor, it has pretty good performance out to 1 GHz.

The wired transistor, inductance is adding to the parasitic behavior.

… same in linear frequency scale.

The 680 pF capacitor.

Also did some drift checks, over 10 hours (after about 2 hours of warm up), I could not find any detectable drift of the Z values, so the instrument seems very stable at least with reference to the stability of the 50 ohms load measurement.

HP 8754A 4 MHz to 1300 MHz Network Analyzer: final repairs, and a function test

Finally, the spare parts arrived, and the repairs of the HP 8754A could be finalized. The LM339 comparators, fitted to the boards…

The cap of the mains filter had many small cracks – replaced. For some reasons, the original filter had a Y-rate cap across the mains supply – Y rating is usually for connection from mains to earth. So I replaced it with a X2 rated cap for service parallel to mains.

Some tests – the 8754a is a very nice unit, because of its instantaneous response to the dial settings, rather than the delay of any digital network analyzer. Even the most modern of all units still don’t such a direct feel compared to the fully-analog 8754a.

HP/Agilent 6060A System DC Electronic Load: a quick repair

This is a 300 Watts, 60 Volts, 60 Amp electronic load, a quite handy device to have, especially, a HP/Agilent brand item. There are many cheap electronic loads, but I would rather recommend to get a good instrument, if you want to put some power supplies to real tests. Otherwise, you load may fail earlier than the supply.

The instrument we are dealing with here, a low cost auction fid – it had a bad front connector. These instrument use HP 60 Amp binding posts, these are quite rare and expensive (about EUR 40 per piece from Keysight), and the plastic gets brittle over time, and with overtightening it can break. The instrument had front and rear connections, I only need one set – so it will be an easy repair by just moving the good binding posts to the front.

Also, we find that all the X and Y rated capacitors have hair cracks, and are of RIFA brand, so these may fail soon – let’s replace them all.

The power is dissipated in several MOSFETs, all mounted to a large heatsink. Essentially, a small 300 Watts room heater, which is great to have these days in cold Japan.

The front connectors, after repair (just moved the rear connectors to the front, rear connectors, I don’t need them).

New caps soldered in – quite a difficult task because some vias are part of large copper fills, without thermal relieve, and I don’t want to preheat the whole board.

Finally managed to solder-in the X and Y capacitors.

A test at 40 Volts, 6 Amps, running for several hours with no issues at all!